The average high school student spends less than one hour per school year with a guidance counselor mulling over college decisions, according to the National Association for College Admission Counseling. Not only is that not nearly enough time to make decisions that can impact the rest of their lives, but for kids whose families can’t afford college prep, that might be their only interaction with someone equipped to steer them toward higher education. So Get Schooled has turned to the Internet to create a free teen-friendly hub where students can access relevant info in one place, from how to find and apply for scholarships to info on standardized tests to what type of school fits their personality. They cut the boredom factor with celebrity interviews and a gamification model that awards students points as they engage, redeemable for offline rewards.
Get Schooled is a nonprofit now, but its roots grew out of decidedly different soil. “We were founded in 2010 as an outgrowth of an initiative with Viacom aimed at using their platforms to inspire students to take ownership of their education. Viacom quickly realized that this issue was bigger than just one company and spun Get Schooled off as a separate nonprofit,” says Executive Director Marie Groark. “We’re all about giving young people an extra boost–whether that is inspiration to keep going, information to figure out where to go, or recognition for achieving something no one thought was possible. We want young people to get the education they need to be the person they (and we) know they can be. That means helping them carve a path after high school is over, whether through college, a technical school or a career.”
She has been on board since the beginning, first as a liaison from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation where she helped conceive Get Schooled, and then leading the nonprofit after being recruited by Viacom. But she started on this path years ago. “I began my career as a high school teacher in the Bronx at a 5,000-student high school that’s since been shut down for chronic low-performance. That experience helped me understand how alone so many young people are as they are trying to figure out their future. Their parents are busy, their friends are worried about their own issues, and often they don’t have a teacher or other adult who is there to guide them,” Groark says. After teaching, she worked as a management consultant and a program officer at the Gates Foundation, picking up talents that she uses to drive Get Schooled. “Management consulting taught me amazing strategic and analytical skills, and the Gates Foundation gave me perspective on where the gaps are in education innovation.”
With 1.5 million visits to the interactive website this year, 300,000+ registered students and partnerships with 1,500 middle and high schools this fall, the nonprofit is earning high marks as they close those gaps. “Get Schooled has designed a strategy that combines the best of entertainment, education, and technology and actually yields improved student outcomes. We are successful because we have learned how to meet students where they are (the best of entertainment) and take them along a deliberate path with a clear outcome (the best of education). We call our recipe ‘sizzle and substance,’” Groark says. “We’ve celebrated everything from seeing attendance increases in schools that have been written off as ‘dropout factories,’ literally putting students’ names in lights in Times Square for going the extra mile to succeed in school, and putting together a PSA in partnership with the First Lady.”
But she says their biggest success to date was with a partner school in remote Bethel, Alaska, that tripled its college going rate in just one year. “The students earned a celebrity principal for a day and it about killed us to bring the CEO of partner Taco Bell, NBA star James Harden, and rapper Kendrick Lamar together to recognize the work of the entire community in providing opportunities for their students. The college advisor told us that because of Get Schooled, the timeline of their school’s transformation was accelerated by at least five years,” says Groark.
Up next is a partnership with Univision, and continued tweaking of their newly relaunched site. Built on a recommendation engine powered by a $2 million Google grant, it’s the linchpin in their plan to help half a million underserved teens craft a customized path to higher education by next year. Says Groark: “Our message to them is that we believe in you and with your work and our support, we’re going get you on your way.”